I am sometimes, actually all the time, a bit flabbergasted by the fact that people, well-known or not, live an extraordinary life – for the good or the bad – and then one day, as if they were mere mortals from the onset, are no more.
I’m busy reading John Baxter’s book, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World. It’s a collection of stories, anecdotes, quotes and by-the-way facts about the streets, corners, buildings, passages, cafes, gardens, restaurants, fashions and people of Paris – from the past to the now. By the way he frequently quote and referred to Ernest Hemingway, one can’t help to think that he must be at least a little bit obsessed with the larger than life (in more than one way) American writer.
I read a book the way I take a walk on the beach or go about my daily chores. I start out with a goal to go somewhere but stop to take a picture of a see-through crab or a washed up piece of wood or I want to clean the toilet, but instead open the cupboard and see paint waiting to change something’s colour.
Although I am not diagnosed with some attention deficit disorder that comes with a long abbreviation, I get distracted easily. It’s not that the books I read are boring (I take care not to waste time reading what I really, really dislike), but because the writer triggers my curious bone, which leads me to visit my good know-it-all friend, Google, to make sure that what I read is true or to learn more than the author was willing or allowed to mention. Maybe it’s because I love knowing as much as I can or maybe it is because I question e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g or maybe it’s just because I’m a naturally curious female person. Whatever the reason, my Google friend is always more than willing to help and a visit there is never a short, focussed or a goal driven one. I turn off at every interesting link, follow even the faintest paths from there and end up at a totally different place than I intended to. But that’s a point for another day’s ramblings.
Today I visited Google to read up again on Hemingway’s life. And what a life it was! It was busy, full of intrigue, drama, trauma, tragedy, excitement, love, strife, journeying, disappointments, successes and conflict. Relationships were formed and broken often. Some mended after time – others never.
Ernest not only survived World War II, but also a few other wars as a journalist as well as car crashes, two airplane accidents, and life threatening illnesses. It is so sadly ironic that in spite of cheating all these potential killers, in the end he took his own life.
John Baxter lives and walks where Hemingway and Sylvia Beach of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshops, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and Scot and Zelda Fitzgerald lived and ate and created and partied.
When we visited Paris and London and Jerusalem and Amsterdam and walking the streets of Cairo and braving a sand storm at El Alamein in the Egyptian desert, I can’t help to be in awe to think that in a strange way my life somehow ‘connects’ with those people’s lives who lived decades and centuries and millenniums ago. I remembered looking at the Eiffel tower in total amazement knowing that Ernest did too. And so did a lot of other famous and less famous persons from the past and present.
I looked at the centuries old buildings in London and I realised I walk where Shakespeare dreamt up his plays, where Dickens wrote his prose and Churchill maybe had sleepless nights over the nightmare that was the Second World War.
In Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, I read a young girl’s letters and I could identify with her passion and her dream to become a writer. Anne’s dreams died young, but her spirit lives on, still touching the hearts of people like me when I walk where she walked and try to imagine what it was really like to live indoors and quiet for months to be safe from people who want to kill you just because of the race you were born into.
In the Valley of the Kings the mummified remains of young king Tut is displayed for whoever is brave enough to take on the desert heat. How is it possible that he and I can be in the same room with thousands of years stretching between our births?
My eyes gazed over the hills surrounding Jerusalem and I know that just over two thousand years ago, Yeshua (Jesus’ name in Hebrew) entered the city triumphantly on a donkey as it had been prophesied hundreds of years before and cried over the sins of His people.
When my brother died too young I felt so many conflicting emotions. The feelings of sadness and heartbreak were normal, but for a while I questioned the reason for his existence. Why was he born if he was going to die ‘before his time?’, I argued with God. But of course it wasn’t true. He lived a full life, even though it was shortened. And through him God created more life. Life that still goes on and will go on. Just two months ago our family welcomed his second granddaughter into this world. Somehow he will remain here with us, because his DNA lives in those who came from him and his memory lives in us who loved him.
The memory of all those who lived before us are still alive. Their deeds and the legacy they left are still with us – good or bad. People today still have scars caused by Hitler, Stalin, Hussein and the likes. But others were healed because of a Mother Theresa and the Florence Nightingale who chose life instead of hate and death. Einstein, Bell, Edison and Pasteur and many more from the past slaved away so that the future would be easier, safer and healthier for us. And we still listen to the genius collections of notes composed by the Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven.
Thanks to the many, many graves at El Alamein and other graveyards all over the world, our world didn’t tumble down because of the doings of power hungry dictators. Their bodies are decomposed under the hard, dry, desert soil or in the unharbouring (yes, I like making up words) waters of the world’s oceans, but their sacrifices and legacies outlived them. Some had famous names like Roosevelt, Montgomery, Smuts and Mountbatten, but some were just simple men – sons, brothers and fathers, like my great uncle, Kosie Coetzer.
People live different lives, but we all leave something behind when we ‘leave’. Big or small. Good or bad. Pure or evil. Our lives are entwined with one another. The past is still with us and will always be. We are the future’s past. I wonder what we will leave behind for those coming after us. What will I leave? I hope it will be something worthwhile.
© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.